North Dakota Water Protectors Come to Gather Shelter Supplies

Paul Whyte

 

Photo credit: Paul Whyte
Photo credit: Paul Whyte

On Tuesday, October 18, it was a calm and sunny day as two trucks hauling long empty trailers pulled up into Fond Du Lac Tribal Community College. A number of men got out and immediately went to work felling small red pine trees, none of them more than  around four inches thick, in a ravine with chainsaws and axes. They had shown up the night before and they planned to take the loads of 30 foot poles back to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota where they had drove from on Wednesday. While the day was nice, winters in North Dakota can be harsh and the poles would soon be essential to making teepee structures back at the camps where many plan on staying in defiance to the Dakota Access Pipelines being put in close to tribal lands, some of it already destroying sacred areas.
The men originally came from as far as Eugene, Oregon and Arizona, but they had met each other at the camps in North Dakota. They arrived to the Fond Du Lac reservation because of local activist, Jim Northrup III. Northrup has been traveling back and forth from the camps and this area since May. The reason for the trip to the Northland was because there is not an abundance of wood in the fields of North Dakota. “It is prairie land,” said Northrup. “What you get is tree growing between the valleys. There’s cottonwood and willow…nothing as strong as maple or ironwood. These are red pine. Ideally I’d like to use the balsam because they’re strong and flexible. They’re a light tree and flexible when they dry out.” The group had received permission to thin out some of the trees because certain members of the school felt it was a fire danger. The group was quite selective in picking only trees of a certain size and left plenty standing.
Northrup told us about how the camp went from small beginnings to having thousands show up in solidarity. He said that as the pipeline project moved in, all tribal elders could do was pray that people would catch attention, and that they did. “There’s this overflow camp, and that’s what people started calling the main camp. That camp got so big with thousands of people with rows and rows. It all started from a little camp called Sacred Stone. Right now it’s filled with our families and elders and it’s a safe place because it’s on the reservation. Right now the Army Corps is threatening to get everyone off the Army Corps land when they were told they could stay there.” Northrup explained that the movement has brought people from far and wide to the numerous camps, “the overflow camp is so big that there are camps inside camps.”
Northrup told us how he himself lived in a teepee from nine to 15 years old. “It’s a nice place, a nice home. That’s what teepee means is home. Part of the teachings is that it represents a woman. Even the cover is like her skirt, the stakes on the outside are like her children. When you come there, you act appropriately. That’s what’s nice about there. People welcome you, the first thing they want to do is feed you. They’re sharing their lodges. They’re giving other activists all over from wherever they’re coming from, ‘here, have a teepee.’ That’s why we’re here. Nobody is paying me or any of them. We’re doing it to build nice homes for people.” Northrup explained that he is getting 46 poles for “one little row” of teepees. Others at the camps are building earth-lodges, hay bay shelters, and other Native American style shelters.  
We asked Northrup about the check points that have been placed around the camps and construction areas that are manned by various outfits of law enforcement and even National Guard. “There’s one check point and they use it to pretty much harass us. In the beginning they used it to open up a budget. We were trying to work with the State but the Governor said no on a lot of things and this and that. So we said we were going to load our pipes, referring to our prayers, because that’s the thing with Native people, it’s all about prayers. Then he said, and he knows better, that there’s guns down there, they’re going to load their pipes and pipe bombs. Then that’s when the roadblock came in.” Northrup indicated that there are so many factions of law enforcement that he’s not even sure who is who. “I don’t even pay attention, I’m busy working with the camps,” said Northrup.
We asked if construction would halt during the winter months as they do with road construction. “No, they love it,” said Northrup. “That’s the best time for them to hide any spills…that’s when they do a lot of their work when everything is frozen and they can drive on it. They don’t need to put their matts down and they don’t sink in the mud. They just get bigger machinery.”
Northrup explained that the company was intent on laying the pipe and was doing whatever they wanted under the protection of various law enforcement.
Despite the checkpoints, Northrup felt that getting the poles to the camp would not be a problem. “They’re from here (the poles), there’s no quarantine from here. If they want paperwork, we can get that. There’s nothing wrong with putting up some teepee poles. There’s not much they can do. If they wanted them, I’ll give it to them, but my lawyers would get them back.” Nortrup explained that there’s a group of over 15 lawyers helping with various matters that the movement has. “There’s a lot of people doing the right thing. Every kind of work and career, people are dropping what they’re doing and coming out.”  
The water protectors do indeed need things like legal help. On Saturday, October 15, over 100 militarized police stood against peaceful protestors walking up a public road in prayer. 14 were arrested on Saturday and two of those arrested were helping gather poles. One Native man, Cody Saint, was there. He is originally from Omak, Washington’s Colville Confederated Tribes. “There were these cones that they put out, and they told us we needed to disperse or we’d be arrested. We were exercising our First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights. Part of what we were doing was an offshoot of an earlier ceremony that took place at the campsite, which was a pipe ceremony and sun ceremony. We were going up to go pray. I was just standing there, I wasn’t saying anything and I had my drum, I was getting ready to sing a song and they started arresting people. They came across the cones, started grabbing people and putting them in zip-ties. I stood and told them they were violating my Civil Rights. Then they grabbed me next. They threw my drum and rattle on the hood of a car. I told them I was going to sue them for violating my rights. People started yelling for them to give the drum back and they said they would if they left. So they did leave with the drum, but I went to jail.” Saint does not know what department arrested him, but was sent to Morton County Jail. “They would not identify themselves to us even though we asked and they had their name tags removed. They wouldn’t identify their names, their ranks or their badge numbers, anything. They didn’t answer anything, they didn’t even read us our Miranda Rights.” Saint was arrested for disorderly conduct and what law enforcement called “the new long charge,” which is “disobedience of a safety ordinance in riot conditions.” Saint said that his court date is October 24 and that he will be represented by Leonard Peltier’s legal team.
Also arrested was a man named Brennan Hay. He said that he didn’t have anything against the police but with they would find it in themselves to do the right thing. Find a video of his arrest at tinyurl.com/daplarrest.
It seems that law enforcement has not broken these men’s spirits and they are determined to stick with the long haul. In this case it’s hauling poles that will put people up for the winter in the name of protecting our water ways and their land.